Hong Kong MTR

‘One country, two systems’ is about quality, not geographical borders: Ronny Tong

Executive councillor’s remarks come amid row over mainland immigration checkpoint at high-speed rail link to mainland

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 July, 2017, 1:13pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 July, 2017, 7:01pm

The “one country, two systems” model should be judged on its quality, and how well it upholds Hong Kong’s core values, rather than how it relates to geographical boundaries, a member of the Executive Council has said.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a former pro-democracy legislator now on the chief executive’s top advisory body, said excessive political posturing could prompt Beijing to tighten its grip on the city.

His warning came during controversy over whether a joint immigration and customs facility, at which mainland officials would enforce mainland laws, at the city’s high-speed rail project would deal a blow to the city’s governing formula.

Speaking on a radio programme days after the government confirmed its intention to implement the so-called co-location of border clearance facilities for the line to Guangzhou, Tong said he was confident such a scheme would not hurt the interests of Hongkongers.

“From what I see this is merely a political problem, or a lack of confidence in the system,” Tong said.

He said he did not believe the scheme would diminish the “one country, two systems” principle.

Under the arrangements announced on Tuesday, travellers will have to abide by mainland laws within a designated 105,000 square-metre area to be leased to the central government for the creation of a port inside the terminal.

“We should not look at the matter from a geographical perspective, but rather the quality of governance and our core values,” the barrister suggested, citing the example of the Shenzhen Bay port area.

The Shenzhen Bay border control point, in operation since 2007, has 41 hectares leased to the Hong Kong government for border enforcement, while their mainland counterparts operate under the same roof.

Tong also warned against excessive political posturing from those who oppose the plan, saying further protests might backfire.

“Hongkongers are right to remain vigilant, but I hope we do not go to the extreme of forcing the central government to tighten ‘one country, two systems’,” he said, without elaborating on how such a scenario might come about.

As the government rallies support for the proposal, which will be tabled at the Legislative Council for approval, latest official estimates on passenger numbers may reignite concerns over the actual beneficiaries of the HK$84 billion project.

US model points way to upholding ‘two systems’ on express rail link

Citing figures from the Transport and Housing Bureau, media reports on Thursday said the government had scaled down the economic internal rate of return (EIRR), calculated based on the cost of the railway, from 6 per cent to 4 per cent. A bureau briefing submitted to Legco in 2009 indicated that a government project is “generally considered viable” if the EIRR exceeds 4 per cent.

According to latest projections, the government expects 58.4 per cent of daily passengers – about 63,800 commuters – to be Hong Kong residents, down from about 70 per cent in the 2009 forecast.

Meanwhile projections for passengers not residing in Hong Kong surged from about 30,000 per day to more than 45,000 – a 12 per cent increase.

The benefits of the project were also questioned after authorities scaled down the expected proportion of business travellers. The latest forecast placed this group at only 23 per cent of all passengers, down from 36 per cent projected in 2009.

Responding to the new figures, transport minister Frank Chan Fan said on Friday afternoon there was a lot of room for adjustment in the composition of passengers.

“The numbers were actually presented to the Legislative Council back in 2015; they’re not new,” he said.

“But the economic value of a large-scale cross-border infrastructure project should not be gauged with today’s estimates, but the situation 10, 20 or even 30 years later.”